Francis Preaching to the Sultan: Art and Literature in the Hagiography of the Saint

  • Mahmood Ibrahim
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


It could not have been more than a brief encounter between St. Francis of Assisi and the Ayyubid sultan Al-Malik al-Kamil sometime in the summer of 1219. But much has been written since then about this episode and its significance in the history of both the Franciscan Order and Christian-Muslim relations.1 An eyewitness account relates that Francis did indeed make the journey to the sultan’s court. When exactly it took place or what was said or what was exchanged at the time remain unclear and open to conjecture and controversy. But as an episode in the hagiography of the Saint, it gradually gained importance, especially after Bonaventure’s official biography of Francis, the Legenda maior. As with other episodes in the life of Francis, it was elaborated as it was retold and expanded in legends, folktales, and visual representations.2 The aim of this essay is to explore how contemporary historical events may have affected the retelling of “Francis before the Sultan” in visual and textual sources between 1228, when the first biography of Francis was written, and the end of the fifteenth century.3


Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Christian Faith Eyewitness Account Divine Revelation 
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Copyright information

© Cynthia Ho, Beth A. Mulvaney, and John K. Downey 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mahmood Ibrahim

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